Indian authorities should cease arbitrary restrictions of the country’s internet and telecommunications networks, Human Rights Watch said today.
State governments have imposed 20 internet shutdowns so far in 2017, including by four states in June. Shutdowns in response to campaigns on social media and mobile mass messaging applications spreading false and even incendiary information have frequently been disproportionate. The authorities have failed to follow legal procedures, undermined stated objectives of preventing rumors or panic, and ordered unnecessary shutdowns such as to prevent cheating in examinations.
“Indian authorities’ concerns over the misuse of the internet and social media should not be the default option to prevent social unrest,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The lack of transparency and failure to explain these shutdowns only further the perception that they are meant to suppress nonviolent reporting and criticism of the government.”
International human rights law protects the right of people to freely seek, receive, and provide information and ideas through all media, including the internet. Security-related restrictions must be law-based and a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern.
Recent internet shutdowns in India include:
- On June 5, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Maharashtra state suspended mobile internet services in Nashik district for a few hours after protests by farmers turned violent.
- On June 6, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh suspended internet services in six districts following farmers’ protests for higher rates for their produce.
- On June 7, the People’s Democratic Party-led government in Jammu and Kashmir state suspended mobile internet services in the Kashmir valley after the killing of a civilian by security forces. This was the fifth time the state government had suspended the mobile internet or broadband services in 2017 in a questionable attempt to prevent rumors from fueling violent clashes between government forces and street protesters.
- On June 8, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh state shut down internet services for two days in Saharanpur district after authorities arrested a Dalit leader following violent clashes between Dalits and members of a dominant caste. The government had also temporarily shut down mobile internet services in the district two weeks earlier.
Arbitrary and overbroad internet shutdowns violate India’s obligations under international human rights law. In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning measures by countries to intentionally prevent or disrupt online access and information, and called for free speech protections under articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The council stressed the importance of combating advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence on the internet by promoting tolerance and dialogue.